Collette Portis of RED Developent Group On Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain & Turbulent Times
Navigating ambiguity and making decisions even when you don’t have all the information is necessary. Leaders must be willing and able to take calculated risks and adapt quickly when new information becomes available.
As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Collette Portis.
As Founder, CEO and Award Winning Master Business Coach of RED Development Group, Collette has proven that her entrepreneurial roots run deep. It is these roots that have helped her to take her company from $0 revenue to more than 6 figures in just 9 months. With nearly 30 years of experience as a Master Business Coach and Strategist, she has helped business owners, entrepreneurs, and executives expand and build capacity and sustainability. Her work hasn’t gone unnoticed. She led her team at RED Development Group to win the 2022 Better Business Bureau Torch award beating out 70,000 Texas Businesses. She’s been inducted into the 2021 Career Mastered Women’s Leadership in Action class and under her leadership RED was a nominee for the 2021 Non-Profit & Corporate Citizenship Award alongside Pepsi and Wingstop. Collette is a leader and influencer in the business community who is dedicated to helping business owners build and sustain their legacies.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I started my career as a business coach at the ripe age of 16. I worked for the federal government, and my boss’s job was to train reservists before they deployed or went into the field. As chance would have it, we had to teach them how to use and deploy the Microsoft Office suite. Because I was learning how to use the Microsoft Office Suite at school and had earned my master certifications in the suite, I was one of the very few who had the knowledge and mastery of the software. So, my boss would be teaching and while he was teaching, I would be mumbling about how he wasn’t teaching it correctly. Eventually that led to him having me teach or him leaning on me to support what he was teaching in order to ensure that he was instructing our troops correctly. As a result, colonels and sergeants and other reservists would fly in to sit next to me so that I could coach them through deploying the Microsoft Office Suite to their troops. I would teach them on how to best use the technology to become more efficient and sufficient in how they used the technology in the field and on base. Over the years, I ended up working in multiple industries and my work always lead me to coaching leaders and executives. I’ve worked with small businesses, churches, Fortune five companies, government agencies, colleges and universities and K-12 schools. At every stop, I would find myself coaching leaders and executives and helping them to grow their companies, become more innovative, and think bigger about what they were doing.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I first began coaching, the greatest mistake I would make was working to convince those who were not ready to change, that change was good and necessary. I made the mistake of wanting change more for others then they wanted for themselves. I put a lot of my effort into convincing them to change. I don’t mean just normally trying to persuade them. I mean I was dead set on convincing them to move into a place of change. My position as a student employee for the government meant that I worked in the office where the red phone was. One day a Colonel called the red phone. Remembering what my mother told me, “if you hear the phone ring pick it up,” I did just that. As I lifted it to my ear I could hear the colonel yelling at the top of his lungs. I had no clue what he was yelling about so I just remained quite until he finished. First of all, I was not supposed to be answering the red phone, but I did. Eventually, he stopped and yelled, “ARE YOU THERE?” To that I responded, “It sounds like you’re not having a good day. Please give us a call back when you’e feeling better” and I disconnected the call. My boss was steaming. He rushed over just as the phone began to ring again. When he picked it up I could hear the colonel yelling louder than before. In that moment, you could see my boss turning red and ready to reprimand me for answering the phone. The colonel is yelling on the phone telling my boss to put me back on the phone. My boss tried explaining that I was his 16 year old intern. The colonel wouldn’t hear it. He wanted to talk to me and that’s all he was going to accept. So, my boss handed me the phone and I said “Hello, Colonel.” He responded in a booming voice, “What’s your name young lady?” I tell him my name. Then he responds by saying, “You have some balls hanging up that phone.” I respond by saying, “Well, the last time I checked, I didn’t have any balls.” There was a brief moment of silence and then he burst into laughter. From that day forward, I was one of his favor people and anytime he came to our building he would stop in to see me. What I learned was you get more bees with honey. Anytime he would come to our building everyone would be so afraid of him. They would all walk on eggshells until he was gone. Not me. I treated him like a human. I did’t put him on a pedestal or puff him up. I learned that day that more often than not if you face the challenge head on and if that challenge is a person you will likely gain their respect because you didn’t back down. Besides, what could have been scarer than a yelling colonel? He changed without me having to exert a lot of effort or do a lot of work to convenience him that changing his behavior would be best.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
The person who I am most grateful for having in my life is Coach Tony. He was the ultimate coach. He was the kind of coach that I aspire to be when it comes to understanding how business and economics work. He was extremely knowledgeable and had a global perspective. He taught me many important lessons about business that have helped to add to my success. He insured that I understood how national and global economics impact my day-to-day life as well as my business. Coach Tony helped me understand the importance of knowing your banker and having a personal banker. Personal development wasn’t an option for those he mentored. Personal development was and is a daily practice. He would tell me that I can have many mentors. Some of which I will never meet, but their writings and other works would stand to teach me a lot. He went as far as teaching me that some of what we were told by our parents is not true. For instance, if you leave a room turn the light off. He showed me how much it cost to flip the light switch and provided that it cost less to leave the light on if you are out of the room for less than 15 minutes. There are so many invaluable lessons that I learn under his mentorship. I could probably write a book about it. I remember one of our first meetings I shared with him that I would purchase another home and that I would pay cash for it. I was so proud of that statement. That is of course until Coach Tony showed me why that made no sense at all. He took me through a lesson on economics. Asking me the definition of an asset and liability. The point he made was that the home you live in is not an asset until it starts to pay you more money than it taking from you. He explained the tax liabilities on a home that is fully paid off. That day he helped me to understand that life is a series of lessons and the lesson you learned yesterday could no longer be true the next day. However, you must be open minded enough to be willing to change your truths.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your organization started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
Early one summer morning, I attended a workshop that helped business owners understand the dangers of the dark web. I sat at the table with 7 other business owners and of course I struck up a conversation with the two ladies sitting next to me. There were two other ladies sitting across from me that I didn’t have a chance to speak to, but on the way out of the event I stuck up a conversation with one of them. We determined, after standing in the parking lot for an hour and a half, that we should have coffee. We both raced away to our next obligation after exchanging numbers. About two weeks later, Patience and I met and came to an understanding that we were both amazing business owners who were frustrated. She mentioned that I had to meet her business partner Reggi. So, we scheduled another meeting.
During our next meeting we realized what we had in common was that we were three African American women who had achieved great success in our careers but still found ourselve frustrated because we knew we hadn’t reached our greatness. We all had coaches that we were very frustrated with. We were frustrated because our coaches were cheering so hard and clapping so loudly about the work that we were doing and what we were achieving. Our common thread was we all knew we were only doing the good work that we could do. We hadn’t gotten to the place where we were doing the great work that we knew we could produce. Our frustration came as a result of our coaches having an inability to push us into greatness, because they thought the good that we were doing was already our greatness. They didn’t see the point of driving us to greatness. As a result, we decided we would come together and we would support each other. We began sharing ideas and resources. After a while, we realized we should do the same for other people. We should let other people in on what we were doing and how we were growing and connecting with one another. As a result, we came together and started RED Development Group. We were on a mission to support people who are crazy enough, like us, to set everything aside and go after their dreams. We wanted to be a company that supported them.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
RED Development Group launched in September of 2019. Six months later the world shut down. We were a very, very new company, but we knew that from the onset developing our strategy was pertinent. So, it was completed a couple of months prior to the shut down. As a result, we knew what needed to be done. We were excited about having a really big first year. As most business owners are when they start their business. So, when the world shut down that meant the national tour we planned had to be postponed and all of the money that we spent was gone. Some of which we couldn’t reclaim and we had to decide what our next move was. At the same time, one of our founders decided to start a charter school to better support students who were struggling academically as a result of the pandemic. That meant we went from a team of three to just two remaining founders. We were then faced with the challenge of overcoming the challenge of one less founder and the pandemic. As a result, we leaned on past experiences that we knew worked for us in our individual businesses. Immediately, we began working towards two goals, obtaining a government contract and build our team. At the time we hadn’t generated any revenue. So, building a team would take some enginuity. Nevertheless, we were up for the challenge which lead to us launching what we now call REDForce, our college internship program. We hired amazing interns who helped us move the company forward, strengthen our business model and improve how we serve our client base. These efforts grew the company and helped us generate six figures in revenue. Additionally, our interns went on to find positions that paid them salaries much higher than the norm and fulfilling work that they were excited to do. Nearly all of our interns had six figure starting salaries. We are extremely proud of having the opportunity to impact the lives of college students in that way.
6Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
To ask a business owner or entrepreneur if they’ve ever considered giving up will likely result in a yes every time. Being a business owner is not easy work. It is some of the hardest work one will ever do. The same way we commit to helping our children survive and thrive is the same way we have to commit to our businesses. While we understand that we have to feed, clothe and house our children we must understand the same is required for our companies. As entrepreneurs, there are some who feel like building the company is something they want to do. While there are those of us who know that building the company is what we must do. There was a moment in time where I was literally homeless and I didn’t have a car. Nevertheless, I was certain I had to grow my company. It was not an option even though I’d earned six college degrees and spent a number of years in corporate America. In business there are no elevators, there are only stairs. Everyone, no matter what resources you begin with, has to take the same journey. That journey may look different for each of us, but it is going to be full of challenges and rewards, but you must decide what you want and go get it. Knowing there was no other option for me motivates me to keep going. I was not going back to a cubicle, I was not going back to work to help someone else build their dream while my dream sits dormant. I know what I’m doing is what I’m purposed and created to do.
I’m an author and I believe that books have the power to change lives. Do you have a book in your life that impacted you and inspired you to be an effective leader? Can you share a story?
One of the books that impacts my leadership style is The 12 Week Year. I’m a very action oriented person. Helping those around me get the most out of life is always my goal. The 12 Week Year teaches you how to do in 90 days what most people would take a year to complete. By setting quarterly goals it keeps you motivated and pushing towards the goal. If I’m helping my team members set goals for their work and life in this manor, we are all getting to the desired destination. I would much rather work towards the destination with others than to get there and be alone.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
The most critical role of a leader is vision and accountability. Everyone wants to be a part of something big. So, vision is vital to your organization. It’s not enough to have a vision, but it must be clear, shared and constantly remembered. If your people don’t know where you’re going how will they know how to help you? How will they know what their role is and how they can show up their absolute best for you. Secondarily, accountability is just as important. All of us lose sight of the goal every now and then. Accountability keeps us on track and assists us in maintaining and sustaining growth over long periods of time. It is a top down concept. The leaders of the organization must be willing to be accountable just as those they need.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
There is an African proverb called Ubuntu. It simply means “I am great because you are. I am because you are.” Your leadership team should have some leave of understanding of the human assets you have on your team and the greatness they hold. This will allow you to get the best out of them for the sake of the organization. It sounds cliche, but people don’t care until they know you care. As humans we all want to know what’s in it for us. So, the greatest moral booster is to find out what your team members want and to actively help them get to it. We are all inspired by our hopes and dreams. Reconnect your team to that. Make that important to your organization and follow through on supporting them. Fund it. Plan for it. Reward it and ensure that you hold them accountable for moving on the things they want. It doesn’t take much to make it happen. If you give them what they want they will give you what you want.
10What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Communicating difficult news is best when it is honest and transparent. Transparency offers your team the opportunity to determine where and how they can help. If you give them little detail they will only be able to offer you little. If your transparent, clear and concise they will have the opportunity to make an educated decision and determine if and how they will support the company in moving to a better place. This will excite the right employees and cause those who are not connected to the new vision to move on to other ventures. At the onset, team members may not be happy with the news, but they will appreciate having the opportunity to make an educated decision for themselve.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
As business owners and leaders we all understand that the future is unpredictable. No matter what, we can still determine what our vision is for the company and plan for that. My team and I help companies out of dire straights. Often times the founder and leaders of that company have disconnected from the vision. Nevertheless, the vision still exists. I always advise leaders to find a company like RED Developement Group that can support them in reconnecting with and then driving the vision. We help our clients develop a strategy that will bring their vision to life again. With that strategy they understand that when times are unpredictable they can lean on their plan. Make small adjustments. Then check in regularly to ensure that you are moving in the right direction. Without a plan you have nothing to fall back on. Without direction you will struggle to get to the destination.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
The number one principle that we rely on in all of my companies is to evaluate where you are, plan for where you want to be, and execute that plan making small adjustments until you get to where you want to be.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
The top 3 mistakes I’ve seen businesses make during difficult times are,
- Pivoting without a plan
- Planning without knowing where the business stands as it pertains to capacity, decision making, operational maturity, value of human assets, etc.
- Working to solve a problem they’ve created on their own.
To avoid these mistakes remember that if you create the problem it is highly probable that you will not have the skill to resolve it. So hire someone who can look at the business objectively and help you get out of the weeds. GET HELP NOW!!
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
First, navigating ambiguity and making decisions even when you don’t have all the information is necessary. Leaders must be willing and able to take calculated risks and adapt quickly when new information becomes available.
Secondly, learders need to be able to communicate clearly and effectively with their internal and external teams. Transparency about their decision-making process is required and the ability to explain their reasoning in a way that everyone can understand.
Thirdly, leaders who can inspire and motivate their teams, even in the face of adversity will garner the greatest buy-in and support. Empathy, compassion, and a deep understanding of what drives their team will help increase support.
Fourthly, great leaders have the ability to build resilience and adaptability on their teams. This means creating a culture that values learning and growth, and encouraging teams to embrace change and experimentation.
Finally and most importantly, leaders need to lead by example. This means modeling the behavior and attitudes they want to see in their team, and the willingness to roll up their sleeves and work alongside the team when necessary.
If leaders master these five skills they will become a highly effective leader who is able to guide your team through even the most turbulent of times.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite life lesson quote is “You are great so be that!” My mother would always say, “If you’re going to do it, do it right.” That never meant that you had the option not to do it. It just meant you had to do it right. My aunt would say, “Touch it once.” That meant, do it right the first time and you won’t have to do it again. These lessons helped to led me to understand that I have the capacity to be great and what’s expected of me is that no matter what, greatness is the only option that I have. So, because I am great, just be that.
How can our readers further follow your work?
You can always go to www.reddevelopmentgroup.com or follow us on LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter or Facebook to see what we’ve got going on. You can also sign up for our newsletter to stay in the know.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
Collette Portis of RED Developent Group On Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.